Results tagged “Anxiety” from Reformation21 Blog

"Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, and your exceedingly great reward." So says God to Abraham in the opening verse of Genesis 15. Upon first glance, Calvin admits, God's encouragement to Abraham "to be of good courage" seems strange if not "superfluous." In the immediately preceding chapter Abraham has waged a rather successful war against five local kings who had the cheek -- on the heels of their own successful military outing -- to carry off Abraham's nephew Lot and his belongings (along with the rest of Sodom's people and possessions). Abraham has also demonstrated his financial security (and, more importantly, faith in God's provision) by refusing the King of Sodom's generous (sycophantic?) offer to let him keep the town's recovered goods. And, most remarkably of all, he has received the blessing of "God Most High" (Gen. 14.19) from the upraised hands of the Priest-King Melchizedek, and in that process glimpsed an "image of Christ" himself, the true Priest-King whom Melchizedek prefigured. All in all, it would seem that "Abram's affairs were prosperous and were proceeding according to his wish." Why, then, the encouragement not to fear?

Calvin notes that some commentators, not seeing any obvious reason why Abraham should be frightened at this point in the biblical narrative, "conjecture" that the patriarch, "having returned after the deliverance of his nephew, was subjected to some annoyance of which no mention is made by Moses." Calvin, for his part, refuses to engage in such speculation about events which Scripture doesn't record, and succeeds -- through careful consideration of those which it does -- in discovering plausible reasons why Abraham might require such encouragement specifically in light of his recent achievements.

Calvin supposes, first of all, that Abraham might have rightly reckoned on reprisal from the kings he had so recently routed. "Abram had so provoked them that they might with fresh troops, and with renewed strength, again attack the land of Canaan." Calvin also notes that "as signal success commonly draws its companion envy along with it, Abram [likely] began to be exposed to many disadvantageous remarks, after he had dared to enter into conflict with an army which had conquered four kings." Calvin further guesses that Abraham's military feats would have engendered "an unfavorable suspicion" among his nearest neighbors that "he would turn the strength which he had tried against foreign kings" against them.

In short, Calvin judges that Abraham's accomplishments in Genesis 14 "rendered him formidable and an object of suspicion to many, while it inflamed the hatred of others." It is no big surprise, then, that come Genesis 15 Abraham "should have been troubled, and should anxiously have revolved many things, until God animated him anew, by the confident expectation of his assistance."

However curious Calvin's efforts to understand the fonts of Abraham's fear might seem, they ultimately serve to highlight the tender and timely fashion in which Almighty God addressed the patriarch. In Calvin's estimation God spoke to Abraham in Genesis 15:1 in order to "soothe his sorrowing and anxious servant with some consolation." Interestingly, Calvin has emphasized -- in his comments on the immediately preceding recorded speech of God to Abraham (Gen. 13.14-17) -- God's concern to alleviate Abraham's sadness with his word of promise. Here the Reformer emphasizes God's concern to alleviate Abraham's anxiety with that same word of promise.

And God's word to Abraham is once again a word of promise. The imperative "do not be afraid," which introduces God's speech, is no bare precept (as it were), no injunction to buck up and cease being so cowardly without consideration of any positive reasons for courage. It is a precept rooted in a particular promise (or rather, two): that God himself is Abraham's shield and exceedingly great reward. "Although the promise comes last in the text," Calvin observes, "it yet has precedence in order; because on it depends the confirmation, by which God frees the heart of Abram from fear." And again: "The promise... that God will be Abram's shield and his exceeding great reward holds the first place; to which is added the exhortation, that, relying upon such a guardian of his safety, and such an author of his felicity, [Abraham] should not fear."

Rightly understood, the promises made to Abraham on this occasion are no less promises to us, and so equally means by which we might suppress our own anxieties. "Let us know that the same blessing is promised to us all, in the person of this one man. For, by this voice, God daily speaks to his faithful ones." In other words, God is our shield and our exceedingly great reward. But what do these things mean, and how might they encourage us in times of fear and trembling?

"God ascribes to himself the office and property of a shield, for the purpose of rendering himself the protector of our salvation; we ought to regard this promise as a brazen wall, so that we should not be excessively fearful in any dangers." Significantly, God's commitment -- by virtue of this promise -- "to defend us," "to preserve us in safety under his hand," and "to protect us by his power," is specifically one to safeguard our salvation. This promise does not, in other words, render us imperviousto every temporal foe; it does render us impervious to every eternal foe (sin, Satan, death, hell, etc.). Our paths may yet lead through darkness and the shadow of death in this world, but nothing can breach the wall (God himself) that safeguards our salvation and eternal inheritance.

Of course, the second part of God's promise tells us something significant about what that eternal inheritance is. "The other member of the sentence follows, in which God declares that he alone is sufficient for the perfection of a happy life to the faithful.... In God alone we have the highest and complete perfection of all good things.... [God] not only pours upon us the abundance of his kindness, but offers himself to us, that we may enjoy him. Now what is there more, which men can desire, when they really enjoy God?"

This latter promise reminds us that our salvation and hope consists not primarily in a place or possessions (even gold-plated ones), but in a Person -- or rather, Persons; i.e., Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Eternal fellowship with the Triune God (and secondarily with other believers) is the true and happy end prepared for God's people, and that "reward" is and will be, well, truly rewarding. It is a pleasure we know now in part, but will know more fully in the life to come.

In sum, then, the promises which God delivers to Abraham on this occasion, much like his previous promises (rightly understood), serve to orient believers first of all to the redemption which is theirs in Christ, and secondly to the eternal inheritance which is theirs by virtue of Christ's person and work. As such they are proper medicine for fear of every conceivable kind. When our fears are fueled by some perceived jeopardy to our person or possessions in this life (as Abraham's fears apparently were, and ours so often are), these promises serve, at least by implication, to remind us that something much more fearful rightly belongs to us as sinful children of Adam (cf. Matt. 10.28). They simultaneously remind us that sin and its deadly consequences -- those things which should really make us afraid -- are, after all, nothing to be afraid of. God encircles us with a wall that cannot be breached. He will let nothing jeopardize our most valuable possession and inheritance, which is nothing short of himself (Rom. 8.28; John 17.3).

Aaron Clay Denlinger is professor of church history and historical theology at Reformation Bible College in Sanford, Florida.

The litigious assault on bakers, florists, and photographers who have convictions against serving same-sex wedding planners is a sad cause of much angst these days. Noticing this, Frank Bruni of the New York Times devoted his Jan 10 column to reassuring readers that gay activism is no threat to religious liberty. The very idea is "absurd," he claims, and little more than "a fig leaf for intolerance." Anyone actually concerned is the victim of "cynically engineered" confusion "about the consequences of marriage-equality laws."

Bruni surely knows cynical engineers are equal opportunity exploiters. But never mind that, there's no ground for concern. Just because the courts have "been siding so far with the gay couples" who are suing to coerce these small business owners does not mean religious liberty is at risk:
marriage-equality laws do not pertain to religious services or what happens in a church, temple or mosque; no clergy member will be compelled to preside over gay nuptials. Civil weddings are covered. That's it.
Glad to have his promise on that. Now what about the devout at work in their own businesses--do they enjoy similar protections?
Baking a cake, arranging roses, running an inn: These aren't religious acts, certainly not if the establishments aren't religious enclaves and are doing business with (and even dependent on) the general public.
Oh, I see.
I support the right of people to believe what they do and say what they wish--in their pews, homes and hearts. But outside of those places? You must put up with me, just as I put up with you.
As Bruni sees it, the liberty of conscience and religious speech only pertain to what happens in worship services conducted in recognized religious spaces by clergy, and in the privacy of their homes and hearts. Citizens are not protected from government coercing them to act contrary to their respective religious community's long-established and peaceably-held moral convictions. In public, the devout must put up and shut up--which seems to be what some same-sex activists are demanding.

But the accused small business owners don't seem to have a problem putting up with gays and lesbians. At least one couple employed an openly gay man, surely most of the accused served gay and lesbian customers without issue in the past, and I suspect they were trying to serve the ones who ended up suing them when they were confronted with a personal moral dilemma. They did not "exile gays and lesbians" as Bruni claims, they only balked at providing a particular good or service when doing so meant participating in what they are convinced is an offense to God.

Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, was recently asked about this issue in Acton Institute's Religion & Liberty journal:
The issue at hand is whether or not the state has the power to coerce someone to participate using his or her creative gifts to celebrate something that that person believes to be deeply sinful. . . . I think there are tremendous implications from that not only for Christians, but for everyone.
Admittedly, providing a good or service is not always the same as participating in the activity for which it is procured. Yet in some cases it may be a way of participating in or endorsing the activity. The moral question for these bakers and florists turns in part on whether supplying a wedding cake or flower arrangement in celebration of same-sex wedding ceremonies is such a case. That's a question to take up in another post.

Assuming it is, however, Moore draws a helpful analogy:
What about a Christian web-designer? Should he or she be forced to design a website for a pornographic company? It's legal. So should that person's conscience simply be run over in the process? I think that if the answer to that is yes, we have a society that is less free.
Many people would reject this analogy, however, because they view homosexuality as just like race or gender. There is, they believe, a fundamental difference between refusing to participate in legally permitted immoral behavior (producing pornography) and discriminating against people who happen to be homosexual (or Arab or female). This view now prevails and is the reason why conscientious objectors to same-sex weddings are finding little favor in the courthouses and market places of America.

We do not have to agree with those who refrain from serving same-sex wedding planners to feel the sting of being denied the right to refuse as a matter of conscience--a sting that smarts with economic persecution.

So, should we be anxious about the apparent erosion of religious liberty in America? God forbids it--literally. Not because the crusade is sure to soon sputter out--this may well be just the beginning. And certainly not because Bruni has given us his word that same-sex activists will leave the devout alone at church and at home--his narrow construal of religious liberty is chilling and promise of peace unconvincing. No, we must not be anxious because our hope is in Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Lord. He is for his own and ordered this to his glory and our saving good, and he promises to stand with us whatever comes our way, even in death itself. To be anxious is to forget that Christ has overcome all things, to act like those who have no hope. In hope we must keep baking, arranging, and serving the good of all people until he returns--as far as our conscience, ruled by his word alone, allows.